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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Cowboy Joe's Two-Gun Manga Round-Up, Volume 3

A few years back, some friends of mine that have their fingers on the pulse of the anime circuit reccomended that I check out Kiyohiko Azuma's Azumanga Daioh, since I tend to enjoy the funnier side of things and had just come off an brief obsession with Rikdo Koshi's Excel Saga.

My response, as it usually is to this sort of thing, was something along the lines of: "Begone, cretins! Batman's fighting a giant insect-man, and I don't have time for that manga nonsense!"

This, I think, is why I don't have many close friends. There just aren't a lot of people that can take being second to the Hellgrammite.

Regardless, skip to today and I still haven't bothered to read Azumanga, but I did manage to pick up the first volume of Azuma's other series, Yotsuba&! for tonight's rootin' tootin' cow-punchin' installment of everyone's favorite cowboy-themed manga review!

Yotsuba&! (apparently pronounced Yotsuba-to) is of course the story of Yotsuba, a hijink-prone little girl who appears to be slightly retarded.

Wait, that can't be right. Let me check my notes...

Well that's clearly taken out of con--

I mean, accidents could happen to any--

Huh. Yeah, you got me there.

But I kid. Yotsuba's cheery ditziness is the driving force of the series, and it actually comes off as pretty charming. The storyline kicks off as she and her father (a somewhat lazy translator with an aversion to wearing pants) move to a new neighborhood, with Yotsuba as a comical blank slate, experiencing virtually everything around her for the first time. It's more than a little unusual if you stop to think about it (see above), but Azuma manages to keep the humor running at a constant clip with an over-the-top brand of slapstick and wacky reactions, and it's to his credit that he has the skill to pull off earnest wide-eyed innocence without generating a single groan in the whole book.

The stories generally seem to revolve around Yotsuba's interactions with her neighbors: Pretty older sister Asagi, friendly middle sister Fuka, and little sister Ena, who--as the only other little girl in the seires thus far--serves mostly as a "control group," further highlighting how odd Yotsuba really is. Yotsuba's dad, despite working out of the home, is an apparent adherent of the laisez-faire school of parenting, and doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that his small daughter occasionally wanders around the streets in her pajamas, so Fuka ends up hanging out with her quite a bit. Apparently that's how latchkey kids roll in Japan.

The neighbors are as new to her as we are as readers, and are therefore perfectly set up to provide the straight lines that fuel Yotsuba's wacky misadventures, like the time Ena explains global warming to her, prompting Yotsuba to burst into tears at the sight of her father's new air conditioner.

The whole sequence is probably my favorite bit of the book, from the outright strangeness of Yotsuba's apparent first encounter with air conditioning ("IS IT WINTER IN HERE?!") to Asagi's kid-logic explanation of how Yotsuba doesn't have to worry about the polar ice caps melting at the end of the story. It's the kind of setup-escalation-punchline-execution formula that Azuma uses throughout, but it works so smoothly and with so many additional bits thrown in that it's a joy to read.

It really hits all the highlights of simple comedy, and last I checked, Volumes One, Two, and Three are available to order from Amazon, or, of course, your Friendly Local Comic Shop.

Now if it only had an insect-man getting punched out...


Blogger Frosty Snowbro said...

Yeah, my manga tastes are very picky. If you want some good stuff, I recommend Desert Punk and Cromartie High School.

3/22/2006 5:47 AM

Blogger Diamondrock said...

As someone who teaches English to small Japanese children in Japan I can tell you that that is indeed how latchkey kids roll in Japan...

(Also, it's called "Yotsuba-to" because "to" is the Japanese word for "and")

3/22/2006 5:51 AM

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